So obviously, as the epitome of a rookie tourist preparing to tackle backpacking Europe, I desperately needed all of the help I could get. And like any girl would do, I asked my friends for some travel tips. Here is what they had to say…
“Act like a local. Yes, dress and try to talk (even in another language!) like a local, but more importantly, act like this city is your home. Be open to the smells, the sights, the people and don’t just concentrate on seeing that next monument and getting a picture with it. Skip the itinerary for one afternoon and sit in a local café for the afternoon or wander a city park. These are the moments when you truly immerse yourself in a foreign place that you feel the essence and person of the city. That is what makes a tourist into a traveler.“
seasoned adventurer of Europe, the Americas, and counting…
“When I was travelling through Europe and the UK I learned a lot about what it feels like to be a tourist. There are times in London where I really wanted to “blend in” and walk the streets like I was a local… and towards the end of my three months of studying abroad I actually knew where I was going and how to get there. In London, the main tourist giveaway is when people stop in the middle of a street or tube station to look at a map. Maps are the biggest “red flag” that you are not from around there, and stopping in a crowded area not only gives you away as a tourist, but also annoys the crap out of people who are actually locals and are in a hurry to get somewhere.
Another thing that gave me away as a tourist was my American accent. Even once I felt really comfortable living in London for a while, my non-English accent still made me seem a bit “inferior” to others with one. I remember buying a ticket for a movie one night towards the end of my time in London and still got questioned about being a tourist just because I had an American accent. The English were 90% of the time infatuated with my American accent, so it wasn’t really a bad thing.
The one thing I discovered during my time of travelling through Europe is that sometimes you don’t have a choice but to embrace being that tourist. It’s kind of impossible to avoid if you’re visiting a typical tourist destination, like Paris for example. Obviously, I wanted to go see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, etc… in these places I just accepted the fact that I would look like all the other tourists who want to take awesome pictures and document the experience for all of their Facebook friends to see. In these destinations, you don’t have a choice but to look like a tourist. So I chose to embrace it and take those silly forced perspective pictures with friends where it looks like I’m touching the top of the Louvre pyramids. It’s silly, but everyone else is doing it, so why not.
I guess now that I’m reflecting over my entire experience, there are times where it is acceptable to be “that” tourist and take the staged pictures and be obnoxious by asking others to take a photo of you and your friends so no one is left out of the picture. If you’re at a major tourist destination like standing in front of the Colosseum in Rome, you’re going to look like a tourist no matter what. The camera itself is the number one giveaway.
But if you want to fit in while walking the city streets, act cool, don’t talk too loud or be obnoxious in your American accent. Walk around like you know where you’re going. Don’t take pictures of random objects that have no significant value. Learn how to say “please” and “thank you” in the language of the country you’re visiting so that if a French street vendor is trying to shove hats in your face to get you to buy one, you can say no thank you in French and make them feel bad for being so annoying. Respect the country you’re visiting, but don’t be afraid to do those tourist-y things just because you think you look silly. Chances are, everyone else will be looking just like you do.”
Studied abroad in the UK & traveled Europe
“As far as how to not actually look like a tourist I guess I would say it depends on the place. Some places like in Spain I felt like I would stick out no matter what because the fashion was different; but overall I just wore a lot of basics because they were easier to layer and I was traveling to different climates.
There are obvious other things like don’t carry your map and camera out. My friend and I did a lot of wandering, we would look at the map before we left our hostel and get a general idea of where we wanted to go and then just start off in that direction. I think if you are less worried about finding the quickest way to get somewhere then you get to know the city a lot better. We would walk all over just turning down random side streets that were in the direction we wanted to go. Obviously if a street looked sketchy we would keep going but you will find cute little shops and cheaper food in areas that aren’t the main tourist streets. If you walk across an entire city you are definitely going to be tired but then you can always take some public transport back.
Some of the most fun nights I had were going to little bars and meeting people that lived in the place I was visiting. Honestly though sometimes going into little bars and restaurants or places that are mostly locals you will probably get some looks but I think who cares! I just accepted the fact that everyone knew I wasn’t from there, a lot of the times people would think that we were Canadians…I’m not sure what that means but ill just say that people have some ridiculous stereotypes about Americans and they would be surprised we were Americans bc I guess they expected us to be mean or loud or obnoxious. You might be faced with some of that but probably not. All in all most people are warm and helpful if you are nice and open yourself up for any possibility. I think having an open mind and realizing what a great experience you are having will help you get the most out of it. Also knowing a few words in whatever the native language is and a few customs or cultural things doesn’t hurt.”
backpacked through Europe
“Don’t wear sneakers or t-shirts. Firstly, t-shirts typically have writing on them and you don’t want to have a different language on your t-shirt than the language spoken in the location you are currently touring. It just says, “Hey! Look at me. I don’t belong here!” Also, if you’re lost, keep on walking. The worst mistake you can make, especially in large cities with large crowds, is to stop to look around, even if it’s to orient yourself. And DEFINITELY do NOT pull out a map of any kind in the middle of the street if you’re lost. If you walk with intent, you will look like you belong. If you must look at a map, wait until you’re off the street, say, in a restaurant or restroom.”
walked the El Camino de Santiago
“A few basic tips on how not to look like a tourist while traveling (which, in all honestly, is something that wasn’t too huge of a concern for me while abroad, as you’ll quickly find that more pressing matters like having enough money, staying safe, and knowing where in the hell you are/where you’re going/how to get there as far more important! ) are as follows:
– A little research beforehand goes a LONG way. Even the most basic investigation of where you’ll be heading is key. Trying to pick up a few phrases above and beyond “please,” “thank you,” and “how much?” will generally make a given country’s denizens much more endeared to your presence, how ever temporary!
– In your case, being a stylin’ diva of sorts, trying to pick up on relevant fashion trends is probably one of the most pragmatic advice. After all, before you open your mouth and instantly reveal that you are indeed a tourist (a point I’ll get to shortly), the only thing the foreign masses will be able to judge you (and other tourists, too – don’t forget you’re not the ONLY one traveling and there will be manyyy more examples of people far more touristy than you, I assure you) on is what you look like. To that end, do a day or two of browsing online forums and other relevant websites to find out what the hot styles are, what a lot of locals wear, and the most pertinent “DON’Ts” of traveling (those are generally quite helpful.)
– Looking at a map ahead of time is super helpful, along with planning your route/important destinations you want to see/plan of action in advance. Even still, you will get lost (see: Amsterdam’s crazy fucking street layout and Florence’s myriad backstreets) and when that happens, don’t be ashamed in the least to pull out your map. You’ll be in new places in new cities in new countries, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t need some help! But again, planning your route beforehand will save you a lot of desperate question asking on the street and will make you come off at least as a more “learned visitor,” rather than an all-out “tourist.”
– Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you WILL, inevitably, look like a tourist, at least part of the time. There will be times when you don’t know what the person behind the counter is saying, why this street is over here but you’re supposed to be over there, when you mumble the broken native language of wherever you are to someone you’re giving your order to, and in many more instances. This is normal! This can even be a good thing. After your first ten awkward experiences, you’ll find yourself really trying to emphasize “BonGIORno” rather than “BongiorNO” because you realize it makes a sizable difference. You’ll feel a sense of gratification when you conduct a transaction entirely in another language, without having to dejectedly remark, “Je suis American, désolé…” And you’ll feel like you’re damn near Magellan when you get back to the hostel from across the city ALL BY YOURSELF without referencing the map once.
– Overall, understand that these new places are not your home, and that you should fully embrace the feeling of being in a different place. Feeling awkward is constructive, because not many times in America do you get put off balance in such a powerful way
– the experience humbles you in more ways than you can imagine and makes you realize that we aren’t the only place on planet Earth and that English is not automatically understood everywhere! Traveling expeditiously throws you out of your comfort zone before you can say, “Quoi?” I recommend you genuinely enjoy the fact that you’re a tourist (at least at first), because by definition, it means you are from somewhere different going to somewhere new. And that is a beautiful thing!”